Canaries: They’re Not Just for Coal Mines Anymore

Not too long ago, canaries were used to help coal miners detect the presence of carbon monoxide and methane gases in mines. The small birds were more sensitive to small amounts of the gases than their larger miner counterparts. Fortunately this practice has mostly been replaced thanks to the use of more modern detection devices, but the canary’s sacrifice is honored through the web service BinaryCanary.

What it does

Like canaries for your website, BinaryCanary keeps track of the status of your website and notifies you if it can’t make a connection to your site (i.e. your site is down). It’s as simple as that. You can receive notifications via either text or email. When your website goes down, you’ll be notified that BinaryCanary was unable to connect; when the site becomes available again BinaryCanary will send another notification.

email showing that the server is not responding

An email will be sent when the website appears to be down.

email showing that server is back online

A follow-up email will be sent when service is restored.

Obviously not all of us are managing websites, but this service could still be beneficial to those who are not. Libraries provide access to numerous online resources, and we need to be fairly diligent about making sure these resources are always available to our patrons. BinaryCanary could be used to monitor the availability of your OPAC or databases that your students use frequently.

As an example, Towson uses WorldCat Local for the book search function on the library website’s home page. I can monitor the availability of our WorldCat Local site by clicking Add Monitor in BinaryCanary and providing the URL for our instance of WorldCat Local* (

a screenshot of the web page for creating a new monitor

Adding websites to monitor is simple. Just click 'Add Monitor' in the menu on the left and enter the URL for the site you wish to monitor.

While there may or may not be something you can do to bring the site back up, it is helpful to at least know that it’s down without one of your patrons having to tell you.

Other Features

There are several different fee-based plans for BinaryCanary, but a free account gets you quite a bit. You can monitor up to five sites (depending on how you set things up). You can add contact information for multiple individuals so several people who might be responsible for a particular website can be contacted. A workflow called an Escalation Profile can be created to determine who gets called when. BinaryCanary also keeps track of the website’s history, so you can analyze when and how often it failed to load during a particular period of time.

screenshot of a chart showing downtime

The reporting features in BinaryCanary can help you analyze your server's/website's availability history.

So, continue the legend of the canary and give BinaryCanary a try. If you use another program to monitor the status of servers/websites, I’d be interested to know how it’s worked for you. Leave a comment on this post!

This page has some nice info and photos about the use of canaries in coal mines:

*OCLC will be happy to know that in the month we have been monitoring WorldCat Local they have 100% up-time.

Why let code hold you back? Websites with Google Sites.

Are you sick of asking your programmer or IT person to help you build a website?  Are you lost when students ask you about Dreamweaver?  Google Sites might be a great option for you.  Whether you don’t have the skills or simply the time, Google Sites is a great option for quickly creating subject guides, course pages, or even entire library websites.

Without the need for any coding or external programs such as Dreamweaver, you can create a surprisingly robust and customized website.  While there are many built-in templates and themes to easily style your site, with a little more work, you can also customize the colors, layouts, fonts, etc.  Some of these advanced features can get a bit confusing, but the built-in themes should be adequate for the beginner user.

Web Address
Another nice feature of Google Sites is that you can also use your own web address for the page.  Google Sites however, does not supply these custom domains therefore you must buy the domain from a third party and set it up through the domain registrar.  For beginners or those not needing a custom url, Google Sites will give you an address similar to

Collaboration and Privacy
What would a website be these days without some interaction and collaboration?  Google Sites not only allows multiple people to collaborate on the website development, but it also can be comment enabled, allowing readers to add content much like comments on a blog.  Don’t want people to comment on your webpages?  No problem, simply don’t enable comments.  What if you don’t even want the general population to be able to see your website?   No worries, Google Sites allows you to make your website private and shared only to designated people.  A private Google Site could even be used as a sort of library intranet!

Things to Know

  • Any content you create is hosted by Google which means that if Google Sites goes away, it’s possible so will your site.
  • You cannot copy the source code and put it into an HTML or CSS file to host on your own server.
  • You cannot import a CSS file to style your page, but you can use inline CSS and HTML tags.
  • You have a limit of 100 Mb of storage per site (for uploaded images, videos, etc.)
  • There are no ads, but you can choose to add targeted ads and actually get paid any revenue from the ads!
  • Powered by Google Sites will appear at the bottom of your pages.

Now go and put something on the web!


bookmarking. tagging. sharing

As far as explaining the bookmarking application, that’s about the gist of it.  You can use to bookmark websites/pages in order to access them from any computer; you can add tags and descriptions that help you find what you tagged later on; and you can allow others to find sites you’ve bookmarked according to your tags.

Social Networking + Website Bookmarking =

The tags you use will be listed, along with the number of pages you have tagged with that term/phrase.  This can also be displayed as a tag cloud.  Very Cool!

The tags you use will be listed, along with the number of pages you have tagged with that term/phrase. This can also be displayed as a tag cloud. Very Cool!

To me, the real beauty of is the ability to use tags to share new resources in an automated fashion.  In essence, you can create an RSS feed for any tag you create (or any tag someone else has created).  These can be added to your feedreader app (you read Carrie’s post about bloglines, didn’t you?) or embedded on a webpage using an RSS aggregator widget like Grazr (remember Carissa’s post?).  This allows you to keep yourself informed about new sites related to a particular topic. (I get an RSS feed for the tag “innovation”, for instance.)  It also allows you to share the sites you find; you can display your bookmarks for certain tags (or for all your tags)  on a webpage that can be shared with a class, colleagues, or family members.

We would actually like you to start using to help us out with our blog.  As we’re interested in writing about technologies that you want to know about, we’ve decided to use to keep track of blog post suggestions. Here’s what you do:

  1. search the web for technologies/applications/tools that you want us to write about
  2. bookmark it in
  3. tag it with ‘libtechtalk’

We’ve set the LibraryTechTalk blog’s feedreader in the upper-left corner to track the ‘libtechtalk’ tag so we can see your suggestions.  Give it a try!

It’s impossible for me to explain all the things you can do with your bookmarks and all the ways you can do it, so check out some of these resources for more info and ideas:

Once you’re on, be sure to add me (mulcahey99) to your network (use the “People” tab at the top of the site).

iBreadCrumbs, do you?

Bookmarks are out, breadcrumbs are in. Doted as the web’s version of DVR, iBreadCrumbs is a browser plugin/toolbar for Firefox that keeps track of the websites you visit as you browse. But don’t worry, it’s not Big Brother; you control when it records and when it does not through the convenient browser toolbar.


The iBreadCrumbs Toolbar

iBreadCrumbs automatically saves the sites you visit during an iBreadCrumbs session. While you search, you can add annotations for a particular site and give extra-cool sites the “thumbs-up”. When you finish your session, click the “Stop” button. Now, you can name the group of sites you have just recorded, add a description, and categorize it; or, add it to an existing group. The real power of iBreadCrumbs is the ability to share what you find in numerous ways. BreadCrumbs can be shared with members of an iBreadCrumbs group, exported as an Excel file, sent via email, or translated into HTML for easy web page creation.

So why would you want to use iBreadCrumbs? Let’s see:

  • create web research guides for a class
  • create an iBreadCrumbs group for your liaison areas to share resources
  • create an iBreadCrumbs group for your department or committee and share resources with your colleagues
  • track websites to turn into an online research guide or a handout
  • email a list of helpful links to an inquiring patron
  • keep track of all those websites you forget to bookmark

Add “quickly and easily” to the beginning of these and you get the idea. Another potential use is given on the Information Literacy Technologies blog: “have students install and then track, annotate/reflect and share the path they took to finding resources on a topic”.

The creators of iBreadCrumbs estimate that it only takes 30 seconds to sign up. Here’s how:

  1. Go to
  2. Click “Sign up”
  3. Choose your login name, password, etc., and click”submit”
  4. Click “Download the Toolbar”

Then just click the “Start” button on the toolbar and never get lost in your internet searching again!

Check out these other resources that I gathered about iBreadCrumbs, using iBreadCrumbs:

YouTube – Introduction Video Checkout this video to learn more about how iBreadCrumbs works.
iBreadCrumbs A sample BreadCrumb from GMU
Wired Campus: iBreadCrumbs: a Social Network for Research Sharing -… The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article about iBreadCrumbs.
iBreadcrumbs « Information Literacy Technologies A great idea for using iBreadCrumbs for information literacy instruction.
iBreadCrumbs: “The First way to Save and Share Online Research” « CMJN… A nice blog entry about the features of and uses for iBreadCrumbs.
Open Access Journals in Mathematics A BreadCrumb I created and then exported as HTML in order to create a web page listing open access journals in mathematics.

powered by iBreadcrumbs